I hate the term “oops baby.” I use it sometimes, but when I really stop to think about it, I genuinely hate the term. That’s because while my pregnancy was unplanned, nothing about my daughter is an “oops.”
My husband — then my boyfriend — didn’t stumble and trip and go tumbling, dick-first, into my vagina. The fact that my period comes to visit once a month like the world’s most annoying childhood friend didn’t suddenly slip my mind after eight years of awful cramps and a fortune spent on tampons, so I definitely noticed when I was late.
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I didn’t then accidentally grow a miniature human person for 38 weeks before being stunned by a birth and baby that apparently came out of nowhere. My “oops” baby was, by any other definition, completely intentional, and we prepared for her with all of the anxiety and joy that any traditional couple might.
But like all women who have a baby under less-than-traditional circumstances, approaching the topic with my child presents a certain set of problems. It feels like someone tossed a bunch of mines into a field of eggshells, and you learn to be very, very careful about what you say.
On the one hand, you don’t want to endorse the idea of teenage pregnancy, and on the other, you don’t want to disavow that experience as being awful. Kids deal in black and white, and when their own adolescence rolls around, your perfectly reasonable “I wish I had waited to have kids” turns into “I would have waited to have kids if I knew what an ugly chore raising you would have been. You ruined my life, thanks for existing or whatever.” So lots of parents just lie or avoid the topic completely, which as we all know, is a really fantastic way to approach sex when you’re talking to kids, and never backfires at all.
So do I tell my daughter that my pregnancy with her was unplanned, and that I hope she will do it differently if and when she decides to have kids? Oh, you bet your fat Aunt Fannie I do. Why? Because trying to balance a job or two against new motherhood and earning a degree while co-parenting alongside a person you’re not sure you will want to marry later sucks, frankly.
Getting that across, of course, is a monumental task, given that at 9, she doesn’t understand how nuanced the concept of suckiness can be. And I don’t wish to treat the topic lightly, because as someone who often heard about how absolutely delightful my non-existence would have made my mother’s life, I’m acutely aware of how badly it can hurt when you combine the consequences of a decision your child had no part in making with being willfully, ignorantly mean.
And it all goes back to that initial designation: the “oops” baby. Instead of pretending that my child’s uterine implantation was the stuff of science fiction and that her sudden appearance in my apartment one day gobsmacked me, I tell her the truth, which looks like this:
I definitely intended to have sex when she was conceived, and when I noticed with growing panic that my period was late, I went to a doctor. Her father and I talked the concepts of parenting in general and parenting in college to death, and we made a decision to have a baby, who we then welcomed into our hearts and our crappy apartment with the kind of giddy fear that only babies can bring with them. My pregnancy? Not planned for. My daughter? Planned for. See the difference?
My daughter, while marginally grossed out and temporarily deaf when she hears that her father and I had sex once, is pretty much aware of all of the machinations of baby making. Sex, as I’ve told her in many locked-car-door sex talks, does not always and does not have to attend marriage. She realizes that she has a say in whether or not she stays pregnant. She understands that babies are huge responsibilities, and she knows that “parenting in college” sucks, but that the emphasis there is on parenting, and not college.
The only regrettable thing about having my daughter young is not that I missed out on some college experience that I’ll never be able to reclaim, or that I missed some opportunities that might have changed the trajectory of my life, or even the struggle carving out a career between a crappy economy and expensive childcare posed. Those things likely would have happened anyway. Instead, it’s that my daughter got the short end of the stick way too many times while I tried to do right by her and right for her. If I want her to understand anything, it’s that.
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I want her to be able to fully immerse herself in her role as a mother, if that’s what she chooses. I want her to be able to push a pram around on a Saturday afternoon without having to run home to get changed for a double shift, and I want her to be able to curl herself around a napping infant and just breathe that baby smell in if she wants, instead of tiptoeing out of the room backward to study for a final. I thought I would be able to handle all of it with aplomb and dignity and kickassery, and I was wrong. I do think I missed out on some things; I just think they were all about her.
And what’s wrong with telling your kids you were wrong about something? Isn’t that basically what parenting is: a decades-long attempt to convince our kids not to be as idiotic as we were? They’ll have to make their own decisions, sure; but telling your child that spaghetti and chocolate cake, while independently delicious, should not be shoved into their mouths in one go isn’t mean or even terrible advice.
Can’t I do the same thing with college and motherhood?
Both were awesome, and together they were considerably less so. I’d rather she has that information through my own shortcomings, not because I wasn’t brave enough to tell her I wasn’t perfect back then.
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